Monday, August 1, 2011

Horses that stop

I relatively often hear people say that they will never jump a horse that stops and in the many hours I spend driving slowly after a herd of cows, or milking, or shoveling feed for the cows I have had a lot of time to ponder this statement. It occurred to me that nearly every horse I have ridden has stopped at one stage or another for one reason or another. There have been a variety of reason, some have been forgivable and some haven't. Mostly when they stopped it was my fault. So then lets discuss why horses stop.

There are two types of refusal. The run out and the stop. The run out if always rider error. Always. A run out means you don't have control or have left the door open- either by throwing away the contact, or not having the leg on. Even not looking straight can cause a really sensitive horse to run out. You need to be locked on to the fence- Mentally I try to shut out everything and ride straight to the fence, with my eyes, my hands and my legs all working to get the horse straight to the jump. This also helps me see my distances. My very favourite kind of runout is when little kids on old wily ponies canter towards the fence and very gradually the pony circles away from the fence which to the riders dismay. Ponies, such heartless little bastards.

A stop however can be rider error, or a problem with the horse. There are also two kinds o stop though. The genuine stop or the dirty stop. Kate has a bit of a dirty stop because she stops at the fence and spins away wile dropping her shoulder, turning me into a cannonball. Dirty stoppers are those horses that feel like they start to leave the ground and set back down again, those horses that stop to get you off. I'm not a huge fan of those horses, I can see why people don't want to ride them.

So then reasons why a horse might stop/ start stopping:

-Horse doesn't understand its job

Horses are born knowing how to jump, but they aren't born knowing how to jump with a rider. It takes time for a horse to learn what is expected of it. After all why go over, when you can just go around? Teaching a horse to jump is a relatively basic process, but it takes some time and needs to follow logical steps so that the horse is happily carrying you around courses of jumps and through combinations. Personally I think you need to expose your horse to a variety of different jumps so that later on they know to just jump whats in front of them, regardless how scary it is. There is no rush to add height to the fences, even though it's so tempting when you are sitting on something talented. You always want to finish on a good note as well, so if you get one particularly nice jump just call it a day. You run into trouble later on, if you skip the lower boring confidence building steps.

-Horse isn't balanced or fit enough to jump

Jumping is hard work for a horse and the horse needs to arrive at the fence with enough impulsion to clear the fence. It sounds basic I know but it can be really quite difficult, especially if your horse is pone to fall behind the leg or ran at fences. there isn't really much point in doing a lot of jumping on a horse who hasn't got a developed canter. If it canter in a rhythm and carry itself then you are good to start doing more jumping, but until then stick to trot fences, because you are just making it really hard for both horse and rider. There is also no point jumping a horse who is unfit. by all means pop over a few fences, but if you jump the guts out of them and make them too tired, they will either start stopping or start taking lots of rails which my cause them to start stopping. I feel that ultimately you want your horse to really enjoy jumping, and so you need to be careful to not take the fun out of it.

-Horse is spooked by the fences/fillers
There is a conundrum in jumping in that a spooky horse will often be cleaner and try harder not to take rails than a bold horse, but the spooky horse may stop at the scarier fences. This is why it's good to expose them to lots of different things when the fences are small and the horses are green so that to just jump it becomes second nature. Kate will always be dodgy to liverpools because she hates them so it's something I need to be aware of, and always be ready to give her a strong ride to them.

-Horse has been previously cooked/soured
As I said earlier I think it's important to keep jumping fun for the horses. It's actually pretty easy to pressurize them or sour them to jumping so that they start stopping. Once they start doing this for these reasons it can be really hard to fix, and some cooked horses never jump well again. I know of one pony that refused to jump 1m high. 95cm was fine- but if it was a big 95cm then forget about it. This was a pony that jumped grand prix as a 6 yr old, and mentally wasn't able to cope with jumping that big and completely shutdown. You need to build a horses confidence so they feel confident and happy at the bigger heights. There is no point cantering down a big grid, clearing 1.30m and then showing your horse at that height the next day when previously hew has only jumped 1m. Even though he is physically capable, he needs to be mentally ready as well. For me I know I can move up when both myself and the horse cruise around the height comfortably and it feels easy. I know of one horse that is spooky at a new height until she gets comfortable at that height, and then she stops looking at scary fences and just jumps. In the meantime it can be difficult for her rider. You can easily over jump a horse as well, so that it becomes sheer tedium for them. Especially when conditions are less than ideal. A few cross rails or poles every ride if you are that way inclined, though I tend to not do that, is fine but horses, like people, need variety in their lives.

-Horse is being caused pain by jumping
This is a big one really. Horses can't tell us they are sore really and sometimes stopping can be indicative of this. Kate started stopping at the end of the season, and despite being told she was just being a dog, I took her to the vet and she has some arthritis in her knee, which explained lots of things for me really about he she was going and some sourness she showed under saddle. It's hard sometimes a horse stops because it is just stopping and doesn't want to play the game, and sometimes there is something wrong. I tend to think horses are mostly pretty genuine and so deserve the benefit of the doubt. but then I can remember Connie being naughty and not jumping combinations for one show until she had a towel up and then she jumped like a star so yea it's difficult. Though if you have a vet go over them and give them a clean bill of health then you know the problem lies else where.

Also important- saddle isn't pinching, bit isn't pinching, ground isn't too hard. Overjumping on hard ground will start a horse stopping like nothing else. you only get one set of front legs on your horse and they have only so many miles in them, so they are worth looking after. Sometimes horses can get a bit stiff and sore especially at shows and will need more loosening up, but mostly if your horse feels good, it will jump.

-Horse is scoped out

It can be really hard to face but sometimes you need to realise you have done what you can with one horse and if you want to move on you need a new horse. Not all horses are good jumpers and most of them have height ceiling above which they are no longer competitive. you can break a good horse with lots of heart but making him jump at the top of his scope all the time, and making it hard for him. Thats not fun for a pony. Judicious class selection may get a little more out of a real gutsy horse with a lot of try, by jumping a big class and then backing off for the rest of the show or so on, but sometimes your horse is stopping because he simply can't jump that high.

-Rider gets the horse to the fence on a bad distance
The majority of the time if you get your horse to the fence with a good quality canter a reasonable take-off point will be available. Though the higher the fences get the less you are able to be to far off or too close to the base of the fence. The margin of error shrinks as the fences get taller and wider. If you get to the base of the fence on a genuine half stride and the fence is over 1m, chances are your horse is going to stop. And if it doesn't, you may wish it did. I feel it's much better to have your horse stop and look after itself and you, than be bold and jump and potentially bring you both down. Thats not to say a horse shouldn't try from a reasonable difference thats a touch long or short, but horses have limits. Sometimes it's better to just thank them for saving your bacon.

-Rider is inhibiting the horses ability to jump
So the horse needs to get to the fence on a good canter, to a reasonable difference and you should be ok. However, if you are inhibiting the horse over the fence, it may start stopping when it anticipates the restriction. Mostly, it's riders really running horses at fences so they are too flat to jump up over the fences, or not allowing the horse to use it's head and neck over the fence. Most horses want to lower their head and neck over the fence, creating a nice round shape. If your reins are too short, or your hands don't release over the fence you can cause the horse to start stopping. If they don't start stopping, you may find they lose their form and start stag leaping, and dangling the front legs. Again you want jumping to be fun for the horse, and if you get in their way and make it hard you start creating problems.

-Rider isn't committed to the jump
Horses are like psychic ninjas. They know when you are scared. It's ok to be scared but if you are jumping you have to commit to the fence. Half assed approaches can lead to accidents and damaging a horses confidence. By all means if you are coming in and you can see that your distance is bad, quietly circle away, but otherwise you have to commit to the fence. If you canter in all lack lustre and scared the chances are that yes your horse will stop. They just know! Commit!

-Rider is unbalanced/not skilled enough
To be brutally honest if you aren't ready to be jumping, then just don't. Put some work in so that you are stable enough to jump and then start jumping. It keeps it more fun for horse and rider. A horse cannot be balanced if the rider is unbalanced, that's just they way it is. Carrying an uneven or unstable load is really hard work.

-Rider is not riding the horse the way the horse prefers

Some horses like to be ridden a certain way. Kate likes a buttload of contact coming into the fence. It feels like I'm pulling backwards almost, but it makes her more confident to the spooky stuff. Connie of the other hand likes to jump from a forward flowing stride with minimal contact (They don't make it easy for me) Rascal likes quite a lot of contact but likes the freedom to really lower her head on the last stride before take-off. And Bill? Well it's too early to tell yet, but I feel she will not like too much contact. If I don't ride them the way they prefer it can lead to stops. You need to jump a lot of small fences on a new horse, and learn what makes them tick, what makes them jump confidently in good form, and what makes them jump badly. Otherwise how else do you know? All horses are different and while it's good to have a system, it's important to ride and treat each one as the individual it is.

This is all for now I think, I have to go feed said beasties.


  1. Very good list of reasons - and as you point out most of them are the rider's/trainer's fault, either through poor/insufficient preparation or through rider error.

    Our Dawn, who is a very talented, smart and athletic horse who could have gone far as a jumper or an eventer, was ruined by a stupid trainer who overfaced her and then beat her for being worried - Dawn melted down and was on the edge of becoming a vicious horse - she hated all people - but we brought her back and she's sweet now but has never been willing to go near a jump again - it took a lot of work on my part to even get her to go over ground poles. My fault for letting stupid trainer have anything to do with her.

  2. Wow. Really interesting stuff on a topic that is outside of what I do everyday. I enjoyed your insights and anecdotes.

  3. Great post! I will be reading it more than once.

  4. This was a really good post, thanks

  5. Thanx for such an informative post about problems and reasons about horse jumps. The important thing is that horse should be comfortable with the rider. If horse is comfortable then Horse Jumps are sweet. Please provide the some solutions for these problems.